Feminist gobbledygook at the PCA's seminary...

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One of the more troubling elements of my education at the PCA's Covenant Theological Seminary (2001-2004) was the lack of Biblical witness in our required counseling classes. The "Marriage and Family Counseling" class used secular counseling sources almost to the exclusion of Scripture's teaching on those topics. One resource we were asked to read and review was The Couple's Survival Workbook: What You Can Do to Reconnect with Your Partner and Make Your Marriage Work by counselors David Olson and Douglas Stephens. Here's a review of that work I wrote for the class along with the comments made by the counseling professor (in bold italics). What you will see in his comments is a man who is uncomfortable with the words of the Holy Spirit, and, therefore, who shuffles away from the sufficiency of Scripture and a Biblical view of sexuality. My review...

Humility and self-denial are key ingredients in any marriage relationship that is working toward reconciliation. One of the helpful aspects of The Couple's Survival Workbook by David Olsen and Douglas Stephens, is their constant call to look to yourself before looking to your spouse. They rightly point out the following: "Most know exactly what their problem is. Simply put, the problem is their partner. Most people naively believe that if they could change their partner, their marriage would improve." They go on to say, "As you learn how to understand and change yourself as a marital partner, you will discover new depths of satisfaction and pleasure in your marriage." And, no doubt, this is the principle we discover in the words of Scripture: "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye" (Matt. 7:5). We must first look to ourselves in any relationship we wish to deepen in reconciliation.

After reading Olsen and Stephens I have come to a deeper realization that those without Biblical revelation as their guiding light will utterly fail to understand the differences between the sexes. [Footnote here in my original: By this I don't simply mean physiological or psychological differences. Rather, I am hinting at the fact that God created man in such a way that it is part of his very nature and inherent make-up to father, to lead, and to protect; God created woman in such a what that is it part of her nature and inherent make-up to be a helpmate, to mother, and to nurture. And I intentionally avoid using terms such as "gender roles" in the discussion of sexual differences. First of all, gender is a modern concept fabricated in order to move us toward sexuality as a social construct rather than as biological reality. And second of all, "roles" are something actors play on stage; they intentionally become something they are not. I don't just play a role of father, for example, I actually have a penis; I am actually a father. My wife doesn't play the role of a wife, for example, she actually has a vagina and breasts; she actually is a mother. We are to act in such a manner that we honor the Lord by rejoicing in how He has knit us together.] To be sex-neutral in how we approach marital problems is doomed from the start because it implicitly condones an egalitarian approach to marriage—something that is fashionable in Evangelical feminist circles and contrary to biblical revelation (cf. Gen. 2:18, 24; Eph. 5:21-33; 1 Cor. 11:3; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1-7; Titus 2:3-5).

So, to get to the point, if it is the husband's calling to lead his wife in purity (as Christ leads the church in purity) he has more of a responsibility to introspect and to lead the family forth in righteousness. There is a clear sense in which Scripture defines the husband as the "head" of his wife—so he has a duty to change her, to help her live in purity. This is an intimidating and overwhelming calling—but nonetheless true.

This position seems to elevate Eph 5 above other biblical passages on marriage. Eph 5 should be read in the context of the equality of men and women and the two should be held in balance. It is not either/or but both/and. To elevate Eph 5 to THE biblical concept distorts the biblical picture.

Think of how Jesus fulfilled this—he asked lots of questions to lead to discovery—not impose his knowledge. The few times he does directly rebuke—"You white washed tombs!"—he is probably not expecting change, but is pronouncing judgment. So, husbands need to lead, but in Christ-like ways—and since we are not perfect, we need to focus on the change we need to make.

Was it not Adam's silence at the tree—his failure to lead her—that compounded the sin of eating from the forbidden tree? Yes, it still holds true that the man must first look to himself—but in doing so, he cannot abdicate his responsibility for the purity of his wife. There is a sense in which he, not she, is responsible for her sinful behavior. In the end, Scripture makes the case that biblical marriage will please God (and reflect His Son's relationship to the Church) when men lead and women submit. Without this understanding (of which Olsen and Stephens show no knowledge), this fundamental picture of the marriage relationship, there is no reason to proceed in self-analysis because any conclusions drawn from that analysis will be misapplied. The implicit egalitarianism of this book fatally damages any arguments they could make. Perhaps their conclusions could be applied to friendship (which is only one small—but good—part of marriage) but they can't be stretched to apply the biblical picture (is there any other picture?) of marriage.

With a baby girl due in the next few weeks, I thought it wise to take a look at chapter 12, "Being a Couple with Kids." While still feeling the frustrations mentioned above, I did find that there was some truth in the descriptions of different types of sinful interactions that take place between a man and his wife. I think it can be safely said that there are aspects of all of these problems that creep up at different times in my marriage. Likely, in a life of ministry, I will have to be careful to support my wife in her mothering, making time not only with her individually but also with the family—times to just forget about everything else and have fun (I guess this would place us in the "Over/Underfunctioning Couple" paradigm). It may be too easy for me to get caught up in my work to the detriment of my marriage and family relations.

As far as specific fathering and mothering skills that my wife and I have discussed, we have realized that we are unlikely to form protective relationships with our children (set-up against our spouse) but are more likely to be too scrupulous in our discipline of our children (sort of a disciplinary tag-team). But I feel the weight of Ephesians 6:4 and pray that the Lord will help me demonstrate the gracious love of Jesus Christ.

In the end, I cannot get beyond the presuppositions and shortsightedness that Olsen and Stephens bring to this discussion (of marriage and "parenting"). With its lack of properly laid foundations, based on the commands of the God who made marriage, I would not use this book in my counseling of other couples. I am not trying to say that secular psychology, physiology, and psychiatry (and its observations) have no place in biblical counseling—they do. But when marriage, in particular, is so clearly defined from the beginning of Scripture (creation of man and woman) to the end (the marriage feast of the Lamb), we would be deluded to accept the presuppositions of an unbiblical portrait of marriage and base our analysis and counsel on their sandy foundations.

[I realize that this assignment does not exactly conform to your intentions, but I had to be honest and "speak from my heart."]

Understood. I believe Scripture must be the priority in knowing Truth, but God expects us to learn from other sources, too—and measure what's learned by Scripture. Your position sounds like a "Bible Only" process, which doesn't seem biblical. There is much to learn about marriage that the Bible doesn't address directly. For instance, Olson and Stephens are saying we tend to think and believe if our spouse would change all would be good. They want people to start w/ themselves for pragmatic reasons. This seems consistent with removing the log in your own eye BEFORE you deal with the splinter in the others eye. Too often, we are going after things in our spouses eye w/o looking at their own. Olson and Stephens give some ways to help us see we are failing, and I think that is useful. Keep thinking on it, as it is important for all of your ministry.

Now, let me engage with the professor's first comment. Ephesians 5 is THE Biblical view of marriage. There is only one view of marriage in Scripture. All the other passages on marriage do not in any way teach anything other than what Ephesians 5 teaches. The doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture does not allow for prioritization of passages, one over another. What the professor means to say is that he prefers other passages over this one. He, not the Holy Spirit, has prioritized other passages over this one. But, wait, that's not quite correct... If other passages do not in any way contradict or correct this one, then he has to be supplying some other paradigm for marriage that is an alternate view to the uniform Biblical witness. The headship of the man over the woman is God's good will and the singular testimony of Scripture: Gen. 2:18, 24; Eph. 5:21-33; 1 Cor. 11:3; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1-7; Titus 2:3-5. What is that alternate view? He shows his hand in his next sentence: "Eph 5 should be read in the context of the equality of men and women and the two should be held in balance." Now, what I think the professor is trying to say is this: The Bible teaches the equal dignity of men and women; men and women both are fellow heirs of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). And since Ephesians 5 contradictorily teaches the submission of wives to their husbands, we must "hold them in balance" (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). And by "holding them in balance" he doesn't mean hold them in balance.

That is the interpretive gobbledygook of evangelical feminism. Unwilling to believe that equality can exist within hierarchy—like that which existed between Jesus and His Father (see John 10:30 and John 12:49)—the Scriptures are determined to need prioritization according to our preferences (or, likely because of the tenacious dispositions of our wives). This view is not both/and, as my professor argued, it is either/or. You cannot say in one breath that we must hold together the equal worth of men and women and the goodness of God's creation order, and then in the next say that one must elevate or prioritize the former over the latter. Because Scripture teaches that men and women are equal in dignity, created in the image of God, and that the woman was made for man, not the man for the woman, it is our responsibility to hold together—to both/and—and not prioritize the one over the other. If we get out out of alignment here, we'll swerve into one of two equally disastrous errors: egalitarian feminism or abusive machismo.

Andrew Dionne is the pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Spartanburg, SC. He and his wife Sarah have six children. Read more from Andrew here.